Navigating A Global Pandemic- An Interview With The White Cottage Edit
As part of our new series 'Navigating a Global Pandemic' it seemed only right to explore other angles of the crisis and speak to other businesses who have been shaped by the past twelve months. In this post we catch up with a small business that has had to evolve and find new ways of generating income during the pandemic after their main business (focusing on the wedding industry) was ground to a halt! Little did they know that this new venture would create a whole new audience and an ever growing loyal following!
First things first, I have to say how incredibly proud I am of this business and how they have approached such an unbelievably challenging situation. Many may have given up altogether but this clever duo created something totally new and turned their fortunes around. I am totally obsessed with this business and the beautiful pieces they create, in fact I have a dedicated space to hang their creations for my product photos. I am genuinely excited to see what they do next and I am sure you will love them too!
So tell me a little about who you are where are you from?
Hey! We (Kelly and Toby Phillips White) are The White Cottage Edit, husband and wife team based in Northamptonshire. We’re graphic designers and The Edit is all about the flags!
If you could summarise your business in one sentence, how would you describe it.
We design and create fabric flags, perfect for homeware treats and letterbox gifts from our garden studio in the shire.
Where was your business at in 2019 in comparison to where you found it at the end of 2020? How has your business had to evolve due to the pandemic?
The Edit started as a side hustle in May 2020 to our main business, White Cottage, a design led wedding stationery studio. Up until March last year, we were happily going about our lives, creating pretty paper for couples all over the world, then boom! Covid lands and our business is declared non-viable <cue eye rolls for days>. As graphics based wedding stationers, we were lucky to have transferable skills and helped some of our wedding biz buddies pivot their own businesses by creating branding and graphics for new ventures. But with about a million other designers out there competing for work, we needed more to pay the bills and with no mention of any sector specific support on the way, we knew we needed to expand into new areas.
What have been the main challenges that your business has faced this past year? How have you managed to overcome these challenges?
We’d already been creating flags for wedding customers on a custom scale for a few years and had wanted to explore the home and gifts market for some time. The prospect of having no household income really sped up those plans! With our existing wedding work being on hold and no new orders coming in, we needed to generate income fast, so the pressure was on to create a flag range and get them to market. We’d also made the decision to create free change the dates and reprint new invitations for our existing customers at cost, which along with home schooling, was taking up a significant amount of time, so we enlisted the help of Toby’s mum to take on some of the sewing work. We’re a proper family business!
What has been the thing that you couldn’t have been without this past year?
We already had a dormant Etsy account we’d set up years ago for the wedding business and with a ready market and super simple shop processes, we felt that launching our flags on Etsy would be the right and quick way to go.
What was the turning point for you this year?
We’re seasoned Instagram users and with a decent amount of followers on the wedding account, we naively assumed that we could use that existing follower base to market the new side of the business. How wrong we were! It become apparent very quickly that the two markets were very different and so the flags needed their own space, which was the point The Edit was created.
Has this year and how it has shaped your business had a lasting impact on how you will run and develop your business moving forward?
We are and always will be wedding stationers and that business is slowly recovering now, but the flags have taken a life of their own. To be honest, our greatest concern right now is how to juggle two businesses! We do know that flags are no longer a side hustle and we’ve big plans for them and their own brand moving forward.
What is the main thing that you have learned this year about yourself, about your business and about the small business community as a whole?
As a fully self employed household since 2014, we’re no strangers to digging deep with innovation and creativity, but 2020 showed us that we have a gear that we didn’t know was there. I think I screamed ‘I AM A CREATIVE VOID!’ a few times throughout the year as I really did feel like I was empty.
Is there anything that you would have done differently to tackle the challenges that you have faced this year? Why?
We knew that Christmas shopping was going to be a big part of our focus and earnings for the year but we really weren’t prepared for just how crazy Christmas is. We started design work in September and kind of bumbled through, soft launching the Christmas range in three stages from the end of October. Going into it, we thought that would be more than sufficient, but it really wasn’t. This year, we’re going to have a much better plan of attack with planning and design starting much earlier.
2020 hasn’t been all doom and gloom. What are some of the positives that have happened to you this year because or in spite of the pandemic?
As we already worked from home, much of our day to day lives largely didn’t change throughout lockdown and a chunk of 2020. But getting the opportunity to spend so much more time with our kids was wonderful and we’ve so many more memories for it. Hopefully, when our kids look back they won’t remember all the frantic hand washing and pasta drought, just the long summer in the garden with the fam.
What are your hopes for the future with your business? What’s next? What are your plans?
With the hopes of the vaccines being able to open up our lives again and weddings being back on the cards, we’ve been busier this January than we were last year (largely thanks to all the Brexit anxiety that was affecting our sector), so the flags are having a bit of rest. Which is well earned, after December being off the hook busy! Our Easter range has just gone to print and we plan to launch those in February, so watch this space.
What would you like the lasting message to be from this year as a small business owner to the world?
Small businesses took so much of the brunt of the financial impact of 2020, but we’ve found that those are the businesses that are really made of stern stuff. Despite primarily working in an industry that was effectively closed for a year, the amount of people we know that with incredible resilience and creativity have pivoted their business to not only make it through, but thrive, far outweighs those that have sadly decided to call it day. It’s been very important for us to support small businesses financially wherever possible and through promotion and reviews. I think we basically have to apply the thinking of ‘if I want this business to be there and to use them in the future, we need to support them now’.
Without sounding too much like an Oscars host, who would you like to thank this year for helping you get to where you are at this point in time?
Without Instagram, we simply wouldn’t have been able to stay afloat through 2020. It’s been relentless and at points, we felt like we were talking absolute nonsense but the response we’ve had from the ‘gram has saved our little business. The support and love we’ve felt from other makers and our customers made me teary on more than one occasion! It’s been emotional folks, thank you.
I'd just like to say a big thank you to the Kelly & Toby from The White Cottage Edit for taking time out of their busy schedule to chat with us about their experiences as part of our series 'Navigating a Global Pandemic'. It's been fascinating hearing their experience of evolving their business to provide for their family and making it such a success!
If you would like to see more from The White Cottage Edit, you can find them here-